Sydney, The Rocks, the first Friday in November, 1976
The dock rats were still around but in fewer numbers than before. The smart ones had already staked their claim to the Hyde Park area and to the railroad tunnel system between Town Hall and Circular Quay. There people dumped plenty of food in quarter, even half filled packets. Also, there were lots of dark, safe places to get some sleep during the day.
The Rocks area of the docks, however, had retained some nocturnal life. It had, in fact, built upon certain beliefs in humans and had flourished. Strangely enough, like the rats of yore, certain comings and goings were not only of the night but also took place beneath the pavement where life could be chilly in winter and muggy in summer. There was even the mating dance, not dissimilar to the one performed by the rodent only crueler in its promises and in too many of its outcomes.
For Western style humanity the summer of love had died, killed by a number of movements including disco, a less than amiable bowel movement. Even so, young men still went along to the below ground venues of false light and loud music for the remnants of the hippy dream. They wanted to howl at the distant moon like lycanthropes or maybe at the giant ball that rotated in all such places as a cold, rotund ice goddess. It was all so similar to the North American ghost dance and the hope of turning back the world to a better time that one could choke on the tears it invariably elicited. Yet dance cannot turn back the clock or the calendar. Dance can neither bring back the buffalo to the American prairie nor can it take us to that oh so special summer in which the best of emotions reigned. So what, in the end, is the use of it?
The young men at the disco were told that how you danced no longer mattered and were then judged on how they danced. The scotch served early in the night was of a cheap brand no matter what was on the label of the bottle it came in and got progressively weaker from being watered down as the night progressed. It was a rip-off from start to finish but, hey! Where else did you go to meet girls? And they were girls and you were not quite a man but, oh so anxious to become one, God help you!
Listening to the recorded music was like having two gallons of corn syrup from the ‘States or forest honey locally produced dumped on you. The senses quickly became blocked with all the phony sweetness. A hole to breathe through could be cut with a glass or two of bourbon but the ensuing alcoholic haze carried its own falsehoods. The bourbon in the gut, in the end, held best the lies one tells one’s self when things are not going well. Only one usually has the common sense to keep those lies to one’s self. It was amazing what one might say while in that haze and to whom. It could be down-right tragic or, if not tragic, then comical in an executioner’s joke book sort of way. And who needs a laugh more than the guy about to get it in the neck?
Sure, I’m Bogart looking at some tall, luscious babe. Sure, I’m Sean Connery going after some hot dame who knows something. Sure, I’m Mad Max only not so mad. And all in one night folks! All in one single night and without strings! All happening right here, right now, this night folks!
Here there was a nasty cycle of unrealistic promise followed by despair followed by more unrealistic promise. Only the elite got anywhere but very few participants understood this. Plenty of fools thought they could make their dreams come true and their money was as good as anyone else’s. Others knew from night one the odds against them were ridiculously high but gambled anyway because there was nothing else they could see themselves doing. Besides, didn’t Batman always fly home a winner to the bat cave? Was it then so impossible to meet a nice girl you could actually have a good time with? Did the success stories all have to be about supermen with their Lois Lanes?
‘The Blue’ was once part of a warehouse. It was the below ground part where coal was once stored. Since becoming ‘The Blue’ there had been a glittering sign on the street pointing downwards to the action. From there stairs descended into what appeared at first to be a dark pit lined with old, cheap carpet. The carpet was red and the stairs always smelled. Sometimes they smelled of vomit but more often than not of cleaning alcohol or industrial strength antiseptic. No one commented going down and once down it was hard to communicate with anyone save whoever was serving the drinks. The management liked it that way. There wasn’t a cover charge. Obviously watering the drink at the appropriate hour was enough.
Paul Priestly had taken the stairs a dozen or more times. On the last night he’d truly be himself he said to that inner voice he’d never, ever do it again but that would not be entirely true.
He was on his own. He was a small, skinny guy always alone and he wanted to change that. He had come to realize, however, that this was not the right venue for him. Maybe it wasn’t the right venue for anyone with a soul. Maybe this realization at last made him smarter than some of the other people who tried their luck there but he was still dumb enough to turn up one last time just in case he was wrong. It was pathetic. Hope burned and the intensity of the flame meant he had to have at least one more throw of the dice he knew had to be loaded against him.
The only thing he could think of to make himself feel better about where he was and what he was doing were the bizarre murders he’d read about in the paper. They had taken place less than two blocks away and involved a jock football player who had had his right arm broken in three places before being siphoned of blood. Also a female tennis player had had her neck broken before being emptied the same way. Paul didn’t see himself as the type this killer or killers were after but that could change. At present, however, they seemed to be after people he had no reason to like and that suited him fine.